What is in this article?:
- Over the past 20 years Lake County has worked to create its own identity and premium wine standing. There are now 32 wineries in the county and 8,400 acres of varietal wine grapes grown by 148 growers.
- Imports and the U.S. recession have hammered U.S. wine sales, particularly premium and ultra premium wines. Premium varietal grape prices have suffered right along with the wine.
- With relatively little winery buying and low prices, many growers consider custom crushing their grapes each year and sell wine in the bulk market.
Lillie “Jersey Lil” Langtry, the London beauty whose scandalous behavior shocked the populace on both sides of the Atlantic around the turn of the century, also put Lake County, Calif., wine on the map.
The actress, once called the most powerful woman in the world, made wine from Lake County grapes she proclaimed as the “greatest claret in the country.”
That was in the late 1800s. She sold the property in 1906 just as another famous woman, Carrie Nation (with her notorious temperance movement), was shaming the nation toward Prohibition.
Just after the start of Prohibition in 1921, Lake County still had 28 commercial wineries and 10,000 acres of vineyards. It was the largest pre-Prohibition grape-producing county in California.
Lake County is making a comeback - striving to return to the prosperity of a century ago.
Unlike other areas of the state that planted new vineyards after Prohibition, Lake County did not. There were only 100 acres of commercial grapes in the county in 1965.
In the mid-1960s, when Robert Mondavi began his quest to put Napa Valley and the North Coast on the world premium wine stage with varietals and the California mission style of winemaking, the renewal stretched into Lake County.
However, Lake’s role early in the transformation was primarily as a supplier of grapes to wineries in Napa and other North Coast counties. Few wineries were established in the county. However, over the past 20 years Lake has worked to create its own identity and premium wine standing. There are now 32 wineries in the county and 8,400 acres of varietal wine grapes grown by 148 growers. Lake County is part of the four-county North Coast (Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake) Appellation. There are also seven regional appellations within the county.
The Lake County Winegrape Commission (LCWC), formed in 1992, is playing a major role in creating individuality for Lake County wines.
In 1991 a short-lived California Winegrape Commission was voted out. However, a state law passed at the same time allows counties to create commissions. The Lodi-Woodbridge area was one created. Lake County was another.
David Weiss, owner of a Lake County farm management company, is a former chairman of LCWC.
“The commission has been really important to Lake County wine grape growers and wineries,” said Weiss. “Their effort to promote Lake County has been a driving force in fostering the growth of our industry.”
Weiss manages 730 acres of wine grapes and 400 acres of pears under the name Bella Vista Farming Co., of Kelseyville, Calif. Lake County has a longstanding reputation for producing quality Bartlett pears. Most of the orchard/vineyard acreage Weiss manages is on the Quercus Ranch. He consults on orchards and vineyards owned by about 20 different individuals.
Weiss grew up on the family’s Yolo County row crop farm near Woodland. He is an industrial engineering graduate from Stanford University. After a decade in the tech sector and several entrepreneurial ventures, he was offered a job 17 years ago managing the Quercus Ranch by its absentee European investor.
“I grew up in a farming family in the Sacramento Valley, so I understood farming. However, pears and grapes were new to me, but the size of the Quercus operation presented a challenge and I felt good about moving to Lake County,” said Weiss.